Protect the value of your home by reporting vacant homes

We all know that foreclosures are hard on homeowners, and that they can hurt a neighborhood’s property values. But you might not realize the effects they have on localities.

At the Governor’s Housing Conference in Richmond this week, Jennifer Leonard of the Center for Community Progress and Jeff Blackford from the Fairfax County Department of Code Compliance explained that yes, foreclosures put a lot of pressure on local governments too.

Here come the bullet points:

  • Between falling property assessments and vacant homes with no apparent owners to send tax bills to, localities are seeing steep drops in property-tax revenues.
  • At the same time, cities and counties are seeing their code-enforcement costs go up — there are more vacant homes to board up, and more overgrown grass in front of more vacant homes that needs to be cut, for example. (For example, according to Blackford, Fairfax County spends $250-400 to mow a quarter-acre lot.)
  • The lower tax income and rising costs are forcing some cities and counties to make cuts to code enforcement personnel, making neighborhoods less safe.

Speaking of less safe, Leonard and Blackford pointed out that vacant homes bring with them a long list of other problems:

  • Illegal activity, from vandalism to meth labs
  • Squatters may enter the home and – now that winter is approaching – light fires to stay warm, substantially increasing the fire danger
  • Unguarded swimming pools that pose a drowning risk
  • Electric companies cut off power to vacant homes when bills aren’t paid. No electricity for sump pumps can mean standing water in basements — think mold and other nasty things
  • Dilapidated roofs can lead to collapse

To make it all worse, code enforcement, policing, demolition, planning, and other concerns are often spread around and uncoordinated, making them inefficient and costly.   

Some areas have tried to mitigate the problem, although sometimes with unintended consequences. In Danville, for example, the city has taken possession of homes, demolished them, and put liens on the property for expenses. But that makes the properties too expensive in the eyes of prospective buyers, who must pay off the lien before closing on the sale. Therefore, the land just sits there, unused, and the locality receives no tax revenue for the property.

Despite all this, Blackford urges homeowners and property owners associations to report vacant homes to their local code enforcement offices.

If nothing else, local officials can do small things like board up doors and secure pools — it can make a big difference in safety, reduce the cost to the locality in the long term, and increase the likelihood that the homes will be occupied again soon.

After all, isn’t that the point? A lived-in home poses far less risk to the citizens around it and produces property tax revenues that allow localities to provide services. 

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7 Responses to Protect the value of your home by reporting vacant homes

  1. Lenn Harley says:

    Spending $250-400 to mow a 1/4 acre lot is a prime example of the excess of government, any government. Can’t the folks in the government SEE that the fee is outrageous????

    I pay $100 to have a landscaper cut a 1.6 acre lot. No wonder there’s no money. Far too much of our money is going through government hands where more than half of it goes for NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING except more government.

    If local governments are paying $250-$400 of our tax money to have a 1/4 acre lot, the only explanation is that they are hiring their cousins and uncles.

  2. Joe Newberry says:

    If neighbors report to the County that a home or homes are vacant and the local county comes out to board up windows and secure pools how will the county get paid for those services and other services they deem necessary. Might they put a lien on the property?
    I don’t think this is a bad idea, i.e. reporting vacant homes, but it should be thought through. I can just see counties adding new departments to keep track of vacancies and the services they perform on those vacancies, and how they’ll get paid back. Bigger local government in the end is not the answer.
    Thank you.

  3. Dawn M. West says:

    O.K. My question is this….Why is the Va Realtors Association…or who ever is behind this story…..expressing the dependance of the the Government? Thes two Guest speakers…Why did not any one run them out of the building with the anwers they presented? Why? And why the FEAR factor……so we can run to the Government for solutions?
    Here is what should be expressed in short: Example: The home next door went into forecloure: We, my husband and I, along with other neighbors…kept the yard, fixed things when noted of needing fixing & , we all took turns using the drive way with parking; ellusion that some one lives there! Priceless! Doing these kind acts produced: less cost to the tax payer, the exterior of home was appealing when it finally hit the market and at the same time, it co-mingled w/pride of ownership while it was vacant.
    I also need to say this……THE NAR, based on stories and reports from Advisors the the Current Administrations… seems to back the Democrats when it comes to these elections & theorys of how the real estate market is….. Our local HRRA, sent out an email the day before this past mid term election and endorced a MAN that has agreed w/the current House Speaker 88% of the time, including the health care, no insight w/the Fannie Mae issues that is destroying the American Dream of owning a home, not too mention our careers?!?!? And our Local endorced him???? Thank God the locals know better and elected the other guy!!! Sad, my opinion, anyone that read the article that local Realtors endorced this one Congressman….they, the consumer, must see us as that Car sales person. AMAZING! I was appauled because I did not endorse him! He believes in Government housing, etc. Collective, not individual rights at the expense of the working man verses the man that chooses to sit on the sofa and eat cheetos!!!!…..MAN!
    Our annual dues are not cheap and for the NAR to endorse articles, waste of depending on the Government for what, fear factors w/the housing? Over pricing w/cost to board up , cut grass, etc…..please, like the American people have fallen off the turnup truck…. This article is just insane, simply, insane!

  4. Scott Brunner, CEO says:

    Dawn — You seem to have mistinerpeted Ben Martin’s blog post from a session he attended at this past week’s Governor’s Housing Conference (not a VAR event, but an event sponsored by the Governor, who, incidentally, is a Republican) to suggest that VAR was endorsing “dependence on the government.” Ben simply reported what some speakers said about the impact of foreclosures and vacant properties on cities and counties in Virginia.

    Also, as to RPAC’s endorsement of Cong. Glenn Nye (D-VA2), that endorsement was based on the fact that Nye voted with us on a number of important issues, including the first-time homebuyer tax credit…which had a huge impact in boosting the housing market. How can we not support someone who’s done pretty much everything we ask of him. Certianly, we could have turned our backs on him and endorsed the other guy, but to have done so would have sent the message that it doesn’t matter how much support you provide to REALTORS, they’ll only turn their backs on you when you need them. Remember, RPAC doesn’t care about whether someone is a Democrat or Republican. All we care about is how an elected official has voted on REALTOR and property rights issues.

    I understand that you may have a different opinion, but I did want you to know the facts.

  5. Dawn M. West says:

    After some thought, I will apologize for jumping the gun. Seeing bigger/expensive and dependance of the Government raises the hair on my neck. I have lived in the Country and in the City and there is a HUGE difference on how folks conclude their daily lives. The city folks, depend more and more on the Government as if it is a right and additude is so different & the Country folks work together; like a family which leads to less, expensive issues, kindness, etc. Again, I have seen both sides of how this works; There is a divide in the city and a together, in the country.
    My opinion: to choose an Elective into office just because of housing is not the only reason why he/she should be elected; You need to look at the whole picture before choosing that voice of representations.
    I read the stories that are written and presented through NAR; reports, etc…..and most if not all, seem to indicate that Fannie/freddie/lending/inspections/regulations…that things are fine; just a bump in the road w/the real estate market. I see it as a machine that was created by money hungry persons(housing committes in the late 1990’s) and it seems that the NAR jumped into this machine thinking that all have a right to own a home; Now that this machine has Mowed most homeowners over, specially the honest, hard working person….tell me, how can folks see the light at the end of the tunnel? For over 3 yrs now, I have performed uncountless BPO reports w/10 yrs as a Realtor, both in the country and in the city….Do you know how many Potential fraud cases I have come across? with banks, selling to eachother; buy high then low… then taking a loss, even when the home was not near worth what bank 1 sold for to bank 2? Do you know I take any information that I stumble across, to several high up folks and they say there is nothing they can do? These banks and high priced investors took all of us and it seems to me that the NAR is just rolling with it because they too are making money off this whole thing, BASED on the stories & studies I read; It’s like the Government and the stories that represent the NAR are working hand and hand on screwing the homeowner. AGAIN, my opinion with some amazing evidence.
    Believe me when I say this, I love my career; helping folks find a home or selling; I love a challenge but when you see so much corruption, it breaks my heart to know that not only do we honest Realtors have to jump hurtles, we also have to dodge the bull crap that is presented by the Big Government; Just because a few persons ended up being crooks does not give the Government the right to treat all of us like crooks.
    Thanks for letting me *Vent* and again, I apologize if I miss read the story that was presented.

  6. James says:

    great post! You have very well outlined the chain of events that could possibly due to vacant homes..

    I’m more afraid of these scenario:
    “Illegal activities”
    “Squatters may enter the home and – now that winter is approaching – light fires to stay warm, substantially increasing the fire danger”..

  7. People got hyped up with this foreclosure freeze! This had put a damper on the market, especially for many home owners that were surrounded by foreclosures. Banks are now given the responsibility of maintaining the foreclosed properties. Many of the neighbors to foreclosure properties have taken it to there best interest to maintain the outside of a foreclosed property. The mission has been trying to sell foreclosures fast not to flood the market and knock off a slowly rising market. The foreclosure freeze helps by banks looking into paper work that belong to foreclosed properties making sure that there isn’t any fraudulent or fake papers which in some cases will make selling the home faster and easier for investors.

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